By Dr. Kitty Oliver, Author/Oral Historian
In Greater Fort Lauderdale, history has always co-existed comfortably with transformation and change. Over the last 100 years the area has mushroomed from a sparsely-inhabited farming community to become an international tourism hub, creating a tapestry that remains just as vibrant for visitors today.
African Americans from Georgia, South Carolina, and the Bahamas blended with native-born Floridians and Seminoles to lay the foundation for the growth of Greater Fort Lauderdale / Broward County. Deerfield Beach and Hollywood’s Liberia community had strong Bahamian roots and the cultural flavor has been retained in celebrations and housing styles.
Points of interest: Downtown Fort Lauderdale features public tours of the Stranahan House and the New River Inn, highlighting the city’s founding and the first meeting point for cultures, and the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society’s photos depict life in the 1930s and ‘40s in the city’s oldest Black community.
Dr. Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park – The popular recreational site in Dania Beach (formerly John. U. Lloyd State Park) nestled between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean was renamed in 2016 to honor the civil rights activists who led the struggle to desegregate Fort Lauderdale beaches.
Point of interest: A plaque within the park memorializing what was once the segregated “colored beach” and the activism and resistance that grew from it.
Old Dillard Museum – Housed in the first Black school in the county, this historic site features permanent historical exhibitions from the early 20th century, a jazz room saluting Cannonball Adderley who was once a teacher there, and numerous community events highlighting the preservation of Black history and cultures.
Point of interest: Narrated heritage tours of the museum and the surrounding community are available for groups.
North Fork of the New River (Samuel Delevoe Park) – This tributary, part of the New River which feeds into the Intracoastal Waterway, is a rare habitat - one of the last vestiges of Fort Lauderdale in its natural state. Located near the Swap Shop, a popular shopping bazaar, the North Fork is also dotted by new developments of upscale residences, a pocket park and overlook walkway.
Point of interest: Neighborhood fishing and ecological canoe rides along the river.
Sistrunk Boulevard Corridor - The street is the historical heartbeat of Fort Lauderdale’s oldest Black community, best known as the site of the area’s hospital for Blacks during segregation and an area in transition with business, housing and pedestrian revitalization plans.
Point of Interest: Betty's Soul Food Restaurant and Barbeque where politicians, celebrities, and everyday folks enjoy hefty portions of soul food.
African-American Research Library and Cultural Center: In league with the Schomberg Library in New York City, AARLCC is located in the Sistrunk Corridor adjacent to the Urban League of Broward County empowerment campus and presents Smithsonian programs, state-of-the-art exhibits blending humanities and technology, and historical, artistic and cultural events.
Point of Interest: Special Collections houses artifacts, genealogy research, oral histories, and African American and Caribbean history.
More than 120 countries are represented in Greater Fort Lauderdale / Broward County today and more than 60 languages are spoken. The area is vying for number one in the country when it comes to diversity. Black residents makeup almost one quarter of the population - in large part because of the influx of Caribbean immigrants from Jamaica, Haiti, and Trinidad - and Hispanics are the fastest growing ethnic group, comprising over 15% of the population.
Greater Fort Lauderdale leads in the state in diversity and growth and, here, the past continues to be a present day experience.
Dr. Kitty Oliver is a South Florida educator, television producer, author, and founder of the Race and Change Oral History Collection; visit kittyoliveronline.com. See her historical perspective on Florida in Ron Howard's award winning documentary “The Beatles: Eight Days A Week-The Touring Years."